Sandusky accuser: I told Paterno about shower assault in 1976

Penn State Abuse
In this Aug. 6, 1999, file photo, Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno (right) poses with defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky during media day at State College.

A man who claimed that he told Joe Paterno in 1976 that Jerry Sandusky had sexually abused him in a Pennsylvania State University locker room shower testified under oath that the iconic head coach brushed off his complaint, saying he had "a football season to worry about," according to newly unsealed court records.

The allegation from the man identified as John Doe 150 was included in a trove of previously confidential filings made public Tuesday. Together, they suggest that Paterno or members of his staff may have known, but did nothing, about Sandusky's sexual assaults decades before the assistant coach drew law enforcement scrutiny.

In sworn testimony, four accusers said university officials or employees witnessed or were told about Sandusky's abuse as far back as the 1970s and '80s. The accusers are not identified and their allegations were never proven in court, but Penn State agreed to pay each to settle the claims - among the nearly $93 million it has paid to more than 30 Sandusky accusers in the last three years.

Filed as part of an ongoing fight between Penn State and its insurer over who should cover the cost of the settlements, the documents were released Tuesday by Common Pleas Court Judge Gary S. Glazer at the request of a coalition of media organizations, including the Inquirer and Daily News.

Collectively, they raise new questions about who at Penn State knew what and when about a sex-abuse scandal that has roiled the university and its alumni for five years - and to what extent the university vetted allegations from alleged Sandusky victims before agreeing to sizable payouts.

After his firing, Paterno, before his death in 2012, denied any knowledge of sexual misconduct by Sandusky, one of his top assistants for decades. Paterno's relatives and legions of supporters have continued to attack any suggestion otherwise as unsubstantiated - a criticism they renewed Tuesday.

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"The materials released today relating to Joe Paterno allege a conversation that occurred decades ago where all parties except the accuser are now dead," said the statement from Wick Sollers, the lawyer representing the family. "In addition, there are numerous specific elements of the accusations that defy all logic and have never been subjected to even the most basic objective examination. Most significantly, there is extensive evidence that stands in stark contrast to this claim."

Asked to elaborate on that evidence, a spokesman for the family declined to say more.

University officials have long kept confidential the identities of those who received settlements and the specifics of their claims; the newly released documents were redacted to maintain that confidentiality. They also did not include any breakdown of settlement payments.

But the filings did shed light on how university lawyers evaluated and put a price on specific claims.

For instance, one man whose allegations dated to the mid-1990s - outside of the state's civil statute of limitations - received a $250,000 settlement, according to Anderson's report. Another, who testified at Sandusky's 2012 trial and claimed he endured years of abuse by the former coach, was paid $5.5 million.

A report commissioned by the university's insurer and made public with the other filings Tuesday described some payouts as "extremely high" and took issue with the process of vetting the claims.

"It appears as though Penn State made little effort, if any, to verify the credibility of the claims of the individuals," lawyer Eric Anderson wrote last fall in his report for Pennsylvania Manufacturers' Association Insurance Co. He concluded the university may have been operating under "a concern about publicity and a desire to resolve the matters very quickly."

Kenneth Feinberg, the prominent mediator hired by Penn State to help settle Sandusky-related claims, declined to discuss individual cases or the specific amounts paid. While acknowledging that the mediation process was done "almost entirely between lawyers," he defended the settlement negotiations as a "very objective process."

"Settlement value goes well beyond the merit of the claims in the dispute," Feinberg told reporters in an interview arranged by Penn State last week in anticipation of the documents' release. He said that multiple factors went into settlement decisions - including how much it would cost to defend the claims in court - and that Penn State was diligent in making sure the claims were backed up by sufficient proof.

The documents made public Tuesday did not indicate when, how, or if such proof existed. Beyond scores of pages of legal argument over who was liable for the payouts, they largely consisted of sworn testimony given by accusers in depositions since Sandusky's arrest and conviction four years ago.

References to their allegations surfaced this year in an opinion issued by Glazer in the insurance dispute, which centers in part on whether Penn State's coverage was voided if its officials or employees ignored signs of Sandusky's misconduct.

The judge agreed to unseal the redacted documents this month after lawyers for the Inquirer and Daily News, the Associated Press, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and news outlets in Harrisburg and State College argued the settlements were a matter of great public interest and there was no compelling government reason to keep them sealed.

The unsealed deposition excerpts reflected largely unchallenged assertions from the accusers.

John Doe 150, who said he told Paterno of his 1976 assault, testified that he was 14 when he met Sandusky at a high school football camp on the university's State College campus.

While showering with Sandusky and six other boys, he said, the assistant coach inserted his finger into the teen's anus. Unsettled by the encounter, the teen approached several adult staff members at the camp, he later testified.

"They expressed concern, but that was it," he said in his 2014 deposition.

So, he said, he approached Paterno directly after spotting him in a hallway of an athletic building, and told him what had occurred.

"I specifically asked to speak with him," the man testified. "Person to person, it was just the two of us, but there were several people within three, four, five feet."

During his deposition, a lawyer asked him to elaborate.

"Is it accurate that Coach Paterno quickly said to you, 'I don't want to hear about that kind of stuff, I have a football season to worry about?' " the lawyer said, citing John Doe 150's initial claim to the university.

"Specifically, yes. . . . I was shocked, disappointed, offended," he replied. "I said, 'Is that all you're going to do? You're not going to do anything else?' "

Paterno, he said, just walked away.

The other depositions included accusations that members of Paterno's coaching staff witnessed Sandusky in compromising positions with children.

One man, identified in the filings as John Doe 75, testified that he was 13 in 1987 when assistant coach Joe Sarra walked in on him in a Penn State coaches' meeting room while Sandusky had his hands down the boy's shorts.

Surprised, Sarra apologized and ducked out of the room, the man later testified. He said Sandusky then kissed him on his forehead as if to assure him that everything would be OK.

Sarra died in 2012.

An accuser identified as John Doe 101 testified that Kevin O'Dea, a former Penn State weight-room assistant, saw Sandusky rubbing his naked back in 1988, while he was lying on a couch in his underwear in a Penn State athletics facility.

O'Dea, who this year left his job as special teams coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, called the claim a "complete fabrication." In a statement Tuesday, he said that he had been working as a graduate assistant at the University of Virginia in 1988 and didn't join Penn State's staff until 1991.

John Doe 101 also told lawyers during his 2014 deposition that he frequently showered with the coaches in a private locker room shower. "As a young child, I have showered with Mr. Paterno and my perpetrator and many other coaches," he testified. "Nobody ever raised a question."

A third man, John Doe 102, testified that in the late 1980s, he was a resident at a home for troubled youths when Sandusky assaulted him. He said he told the adult supervisor in the house. But instead of reporting the allegation to authorities, he said the man accused him of lying and ordered him to apologize to Sandusky.

When the assistant coach returned to the house, he was with a second man, who the teen said he believed was Penn State's then-athletic director, Jim Tarman.

"He had a blue polo shirt on that had the little script embroidery of Penn State, an embroidered little football," the accuser said of the Penn State official. Ultimately, the accuser told lawyers he could not testify definitively that the man was Tarman.

Long retired, Tarman could not be reached for comment. In May, his wife told the Inquirer he had health issues that left him unable to answer questions.

The documents also reveal new details on the allegations by Michael McQueary, the former graduate assistant whose testimony that he saw Sandusky assault a boy in a campus shower in 2001 became a key part of the criminal case a decade later.

In his 2015 deposition, McQueary told the insurance company lawyers that two Penn State football coaches - former defensive coordinator Tom Bradley and assistant coach Greg Schiano - were aware of past incidents involving Sandusky.

McQueary said that he told Bradley about the shower assault sometime after the 2001 incident, and that the defensive coordinator was "not shocked" to hear the account.

"He said another assistant coach had come to him in the early '90s about a very similar situation to mine, and he said that . . . someone had come to him as far back as the early '80s about seeing Jerry doing something with a boy," McQueary said.

Bradley reportedly told McQueary that Schiano had come into his office in the '90s "white as a ghost and said he just saw Jerry doing something to a boy in the shower."

Both men denied McQueary's version of events.

"I never saw any abuse, nor had reason to suspect any abuse, during my time at Penn State," Schiano, a onetime head coach at Rutgers University and in the NFL, who now serves as defensive coordinator for Ohio State, tweeted Tuesday afternoon.

A lawyer for Bradley, now a coach at the University of California, Los Angeles, said that "at no time did Tom Bradley ever witness any inappropriate behavior nor did he have any knowledge of alleged incidents in the '80s and '90s."

In a statement Tuesday, Penn State president Eric Barron called on university staff, students, and alumni to avoid speculation surrounding the documents' release.

Although settlements were reached with accusers, he said, any "alleged knowledge" that Penn State employees have of Sandusky's abuse "is not proven, and should not be treated as such."

"Some individuals deny the claims, and others are unable to defend themselves," he wrote.

Three Penn State administrators - former president Graham B. Spanier, former vice president Gary Schultz, and former athletic director Tim Curley - still are awaiting trial on charges stemming from their handling of other Sandusky molestation complaints. Each has pleaded not guilty.

Sandusky has appealed the 30- to 60-year prison term he received in 2012 for abusing 10 boys. On Tuesday, his lawyer denied the allegations detailed in the newly released documents.

jroebuck@phillynews.com

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